Yellow alert declared for Bogotá as Amazon fires grow

Forest fires raging near PNN Chiribiquete/Karen Salamanca, MinDefensa

Fires raging in the departments of Casanare, Meta, and Guaviare are causing Bogotá’s air quality to deteriorate, warned the country’s Meteorological Institute IDEAM and Disaster Risk Management Agency UNGRD.

A prolonged drought across much of the Amazon and Orinoco basins, as well as record warm temperatures reported during January are some of the causes for these forest fires, and which according to the governor of the department of Guaviare, Heydeer Palacio, have consumed more than 15,000 hectares. In the Guaviare department alone, the Ministry of Environment has identified some 1,300 “hot spots.” An additional 1,500 hectares are burning inside the country’s largest national park PNN Serranía del Chiribiquete, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Strong winds blowing from the Eastern Plains – Llanos Orientales – began to blanket Bogotá in haze Friday, making the district’s Environment Secretariat Carolina Urrutia issue a preliminary warning for the Colombian capital. “The first months of the year in Bogotá are usually more complicated in terms of air quality. In the first place, due to weather conditions, low temperatures in the morning, and high temperatures throughout the rest of the day, cause polluting materials to remain in the city,” she said, highlighting that the large number of forest fires and “hot spots” in the Sabana de Bogotá is blocking the flow of air in the city, causing locally generated emissions to be trapped over time.”

On Saturday, Mayor Claudia López placed Bogotá under Yellow Alert, as well as the city’s private and public hospitals, to meet demand for patients suffering from respiratory problems. The alert also increases the numbers of medical staff to threat pollution-related symptoms.

Mayor López called on residents to enforce the mandatory use of face masks against COVID-19, and now, bad air quality. The district recommended all persons avoid outdoor activities and sports. An update on Bogotá’s air quality is to be announced next Friday. “The less cars we have on our streets contaminating with gasoline and diesel, a better quality of air we’ll have,” stated López.

The Mayor also emphasized that the all-day licence plate restriction Pico y Placa, that went into effect on January 10, has increased vehicle flow along 14 of the capital’s busiest corridors to 29.5 km/h, compared to 25 km/h last November.

Satellite imagery from NASA shows 1,865 active hot spots across northern South America.